Wednesday, July 06, 2005

We're really doomed
After reading the book about the 1918 flu pandemic that wiped out about 5% of the world's population, I've tried not to become overly paranoid about the Asian bird flu. Compared to our capabilities in 1918, we are in a much better position to know and understand what's happening, even if we're not, at this point, in much better shape to do anything about it if when it mutates to become human-to-human contagious (if it hasn't already). But experts at this week's UN conference are starting to lace their growing nervousness with a sense of urgency:
Dr. Shigeru Omi of the World Health Organization said at the opening of a three-day UN conference on bird flu that the virus has "tightened its grip" on the region and is capable of springing major surprises.

"We believe we are at the tipping point. Either we reverse this trend or things will get out of hand," Omi said. "We must have an all-out war against this virus."
Does the public even have a clue how influenza viruses are passed? How best to protect ourselves once human contagion is confirmed? What signs to look for that would indicate we are infected? What to do after that if we start showing those signs? I starve a fever, and feed a cold (I think...) but what the hell do I do when the hospitals are overflowing, the nurses are all sick, and I'm paralyzed by fever and pain and blood is coming out of my ears?

Maybe it's time the media, and the government, got their collective heads out of their asses and started educating the public before it's too late for a change. The bird flu need not be a tsuanami story in which the wall-to-wall coverage is all after-the-disaster. We know this one is coming, unless some concerted steps are taken and successful. Instead, it feels like we're making many of the same mistakes that were made 87 years ago, when public officials and much of the media chose not to speak the truth for fear of causing a panic. And so the ensuing inevitable terror was exacerbated by a silence that did not comport with the disease-laden reality.

Luckily, right now, we're ahead of that curve. We at least know it's out there. But most ho-hum media reports about it seem glazed over with our typical, foolhardy, childlike expectation that smart people somewhere will eventually do something to keep us regular, innocent, civilized folk safe. Meanwhile, with each cell that is inhabited by the virus creating 10,000 new virus-inhabited cells that are capable of reproducation, the mutation those smart people dread could happen tomorrow, today, or may have happened yesterday. And by the time we realize it, trans-continental flights may have sent infected, contagious humans to every corner of the globe.

Consider my paranoia boycott lifted. If yours is too, you may want to check out this blog devoted to the bird flu.

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